The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, deplores the baseless and hateful statements that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made about our fellow Hellenes on Wednesday, March 11.
Erdogan, it was reported Wednesday, declared that “there is no difference between what the Nazis did and what we’re seeing from the Greek border.” He also described Greek authorities as “fascists” and “barbarians.”
The current crisis over migrants at the Greek border has been entirely manufactured by Erdogan. Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu revealed Erdogan’s agenda recently on CNN Türk when he said that soon the number of migrants would “reach one million,” and declared: “Europe cannot endure this, cannot handle this. This is not the first time I am talking about it. The governments in Europe will change, their economies will deteriorate, their stock markets will collapse.”
In light of that, the Greek government and people are entirely justified in defending themselves, and have behaved in a commendably humane manner in doing so. The Turkish President’s likening them to Nazis is inflammatory, irresponsible, and inaccurate. David Harris, the CEO of the American Jewish Committee, succinctly summed up some of the many problems with Erdogan’s statement when he asked: “Do migrants in Turkey face Holocaust? Are they fleeing for their lives? If so, Erdogan should be held accountable. If not, he should visit Auschwitz & learn about real Nazis.”
Erdogan’s bellicose statement is in line with Turkey’s treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Order of Saint Andrew has identified several key issues regarding religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and all Christians in Turkey:
1) The lack of any legal identity afforded to the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Turkish state;
2) The closing in 1971 of the Patriarchate’s theological seminary and the resultant inability to train new clergy;
3) Confiscation of thousands of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s properties by the host government;
4) Interference in Patriarchal elections.
These conditions go to the core of this ancient religious community’s very ability to survive.
In light of them and other aspects of the plight of religious minorities in Turkey, as well as of his new statement, it is clear that Erdogan is deeply hostile to the remaining Greek Orthodox Christians of Turkey, and to Greece as well. This hostility also extends to all the other religious and ethnic minorities of Turkey: Armenians, Jews, Syro-Chaldeans, Kurds, Bulgarians, and others.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)’s 2019 Annual Report, which documents violations of religious freedom around the world and makes recommendations to the U.S. government on how this fundamental freedom can be more effectively protected worldwide, once again included Turkey among its current Tier 2 violators – that is, countries where religious freedom violations are systematic, ongoing, and/or egregious.
Erdogan’s statement reveals the ugly hostility that undergirds these violations of religious freedom. We accordingly urge President Erdogan, in accord with our ongoing campaign to protect the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to retract his statement and issue an apology to the government and people of Greece.
In the service of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,
Anthony J. Limberakis, MD